The new year brings with it excitement for most, but not many people will be looking forward to what 2019 has to offer more than England cricket fans.
If last year was dominated by the football World Cup, then the next 12 months could be all about a different sport, with the Cricket World Cup followed by the Ashes – both of which will be played on home soil, with a significant amount in London.
It’s a tantalising prospect and one not just that fans are counting down the days until. As Marylebone Cricket Club chief executive, Guy Lavender will be in the thick of the action.
Lord’s will host five World Cup fixtures, including the final on 14 July, as well as a historic first four-day England Test match against Ireland on 24 July and the second Ashes Test on 14 August.
Away from the international scene, the home of cricket also has Middlesex home fixtures scheduled and more specialist matches such as Eton v Harrow and Oxford v Cambridge.
'Greatest summer of cricket'
Having got his feet firmly under the desk since joining MCC in October 2017 from Somerset, where he served as chief executive for six years, Lavender is now on the brink of a hugely significant season – and he is not one to downplay it.
“This year is going to be absolutely incredible – probably the most exciting in the club’s history, I would argue,” he tells City A.M. “From a Lord’s perspective, an MCC perspective and from a game-wide perspective, it’s probably going to be one of the greatest summers of cricket we’ve known for many, many years.”
As head of MCC, a “diverse, complex cricket club”, Lavender has a wide remit, with fixtures at Lord’s, Middlesex’s campaign, the laws and spirit of the game, and community outreach to consider, among other things. It offers him a good vantage point from which to assess the game.
“People sort of talk down cricket quite a lot, saying it’s in crisis but it certainly doesn’t feel like it from my perspective,” the 52-year-old says. “If you look at what’s coming this year with the World Cup: we’ve had 2.9m ticket applications for 700,000 tickets. Ashes ticket sales are off the scale in terms of demand. Our T20 fixtures continue to sell out.
“From our perspective there’s an appetite for the game and that’s a great place to be.”
Lavender’s optimism is understandable considering what lies ahead for English cricket, Lord’s as a venue, and for MCC by association.
Eoin Morgan’s England side head into the 50-over World Cup as favourites. They are the No1-ranked one-day team and have the considerable advantage of playing at home.
Meanwhile, Joe Root’s Test group are gearing up for the Ashes, having won eight of their last 10 matches and will face an Australia side struggling after an historic 2-1 Test series defeat by India – the first by an Asian team Down Under.
To have both peaking seemingly at the right time ahead of big competitions in front of their own fans is exciting for Lavender, who is looking to pull off hosting with a military precision derived from his 18 years in the army.
“If things go well this year it’s a great opportunity to get cricket on people’s agenda and I think it will do over the course of the summer,” he adds.
“I think cricket is going to be the central sport of the summer and that’s a fantastic place to be. The key thing is that we use that opportunity to get people engaged, not just in watching it but playing it too. That’s a core part of the plan.”
As well as spending a considerable amount of time planning for international fixtures, Lavender has half an eye on the coming redevelopment of the Compton and Edrich Stands, which will take the ground’s capacity from 28,500 to 31,000. Once a planning determination is passed this month, the two-year build will begin at the end of the season.
Another project in the pipeline is the much-maligned and as yet undefined domestic 100-ball tournament, which is set to begin in 2020. Lavender has been involved in its formulation and is positive about its potential, despite its mixed reception so far.
“We’ve been working, particularly in the latter half of last year, to start to really get into the detail of how this competition is going to work, how its operational delivery plan is going to pan out,” he explains.
“There are lots of mixed attitudes and opinions about the new competition and there are the same debates and disagreements in MCC as there are anywhere. When you strip all that out, the 100-ball competition for us is a great opportunity to get a new audience into Lord’s.”
Lavender believes that although the proposed new format will be similar to Twenty20, its appeal will rest on a number of factors. He says the difference in approach will lie in “how we organise the ground, the family stands, what the match-day experience looks like, what we do with the ticket pricing, how we engage with local community groups and member areas”.
“I think it’s always easy from the outside to poke fingers at people who are trying to develop it,” he adds. “But I would be happy to suggest that the 100-ball competition will be a success. I think the real challenge is what impact it has on the sustainment of four formats of the game, and that’s a question nobody really knows. Cricket has a history of trying things out and evolving them as we go and this is no different.”
Lavender’s optimistic outlook is genuine and reflected in his enthusiasm, but for now the furore around the new domestic competition is a consideration for another day. For the time being it’s all about what’s on the horizon.
“I think we spend too much time in cricket talking it down without celebrating the amazing sport we’re involved in and the enormous interest and passion people have for it,” he says. “And that’s going to be demonstrated over the next few months.”
Spectators can apply for two tickets per day at each of the Lord's Tests via the ballot at http://www.lords.org until midnight on Friday